But how do you get to the main point artfully? The answer reminds me of how I got to NYC. I took a train, but that is another story. Suffice it to say that certain aspects of rail travel suggest how a writer can make himself or herself clear, and help a reader to get to the main point: by making connections.
In rail travel there are big connections – station-to-station, between cities and towns – and smaller, but equally important connections linking engine, to dining car, to lounge car, to sleeper car, and so on. If you miss your big or small connections on a train, you won’t get where you’re going. If your reader misses the connections between the subordinate points or essential elements in your writing, they won’t get where you want them to go – the main point.
I addressed something similar in an earlier blog, but in order to get your reader to the point of your writing, whether it’s a non-fiction article, a story you invent whole-cloth, a letter, or a report, you need to make sure the reader can follow the progression of events from one junction to another. As simple as that sounds, inexperienced writers will often fail to connect the dots. Teaching writing to beginners I have seen too many disjointed narratives to believe otherwise. As an editor, I’ve occasionally seen the same thing, even from professional writers.
At some point any writer needs to be able to show cause and effect – this is happening because of that. But it is just as important to show how one thing depends on another, to delineate the connections between ideas, scenes, events, incidents, or even individual calls-to-action in a plan.
One problem is that there are times when a good transition seems unnecessary. When we think, the internal transitions may occur naturally and without effort based on common life experience. That also applies at times to writing, which is why, “It’s been raining for hours. Drive carefully,” may be just as effective as the more tedious, “It’s been raining for hours. There is a lot of water on the street. The ground is slick, making traction uncertain, dicey at best. So you need to drive with particular care, especially since your brakes need repair and your tires are wearing thin.”
The shorthand version works best if you can correctly assume certain knowledge on the part of the reader. The longer version could be better, though, if you’re working towards a point about the brakes or the tires, or trying to build foreshadowing, or otherwise leading your reader to something that happens later in the narrative. If you’re writing to inform, you also need stronger transitions.
How do you ensure that you make your points connect? Follow these steps:
Step 1: Question yourself. As you write, keep asking yourself, “What actually happens next? If I leave out this detail, will people understand what I want them to?”
Then, after you write the first draft:
Step 2: Re-read. Focus on how clearly and logically you, as reader, get from one point to the next. Rewrite if needed.
Step 3: Get another pair of eyes. Borrow the perspective of a second reader who will give you an honest assessment of how well your transitions work. If you’re not getting an experienced editor, it may help to enlist the aid of someone who knows little about the subject, especially if you’re aiming for a diverse or mass readership. The less they know, the more you will be able to tell if you’re putting your point across to them. Listen as objectively as possible to what your second reader tells you. Next, rewrite if needed.
Step 4: Repeat. Give yourself time to re-read your work more than once, and if possible, get your second reader to do the same. You’ll be glad you did, and maybe surprised at what you pick up before you wrap it up.
Riding the rails is a great way to see the country, if you have the time, and if you make all your connections. If you take the time to make the transitions, the connections between the smaller points in your writing tasks, you and your reader will arrive at the same point together.
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